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Adventures around the world (with Beth and Chris)

Archive for the tag “btga”

We’ve Bridged the Gap!

Last week Beth and I flew back into the bush to put the finishing touches on the Mara Plains Bridge in Kenya, and to say our final goodbyes to everyone at the camp.

The gap……

has been bridged!

It’s been an incredible experience for both of us, and we’re proud to be part of the Bridging the Gap Africa team.

As a famous bridge builder we know often says, “Bridges are beautiful things!”

Living and Breathing this Bridge

Today marks the beginning of week seven on the bridge site. Seven Sundays ago, Chris and I got into Harmon’s rugged red four wheel drive truck, left Nairobi and drove across Kenya, through the Maasai Mara, to this corner of the Olare Orok Conservancy at Mara Plains Camp. We jiggled over bumpy clay colored Kenyan roads weaving around seemingly bottomless potholes, through wet and slippery river crossings – slowly and with gritted teeth, Chris white-knuckling the steering wheel – avoiding unseen protruding rocks. We dodged dried up gulches formed by the hard, heavy, and fast rains that we would come to experience. We passed by Maasai men wrapped in red, herding their cows and goats or, on occasion, jumping (literally for joy, I’m told), the incredible African wildlife and under the Kenyan white swirling clouds and dramatic cerulean sky.



We made this journey on unmarked, unpaved, and uninhabitated conservancy “roads” using two navigation apps, a hand drawn map, and using such landmarks as: “sign posts”, and “the fallen tree” (we added our own such landmarks on subsequent trips into the bush town, Talek to buy supplies : the “bad river crossing” – turns out it was the correct river crossing, the “anthill”, the “small bent tree”, and the “carcass” – we learned our way without this one well before it disappeared). There have been many many trips across the conservancy; each time a unique and awe-inspiring experience – the windows down, no radio, no seat belts – just us and the enticing Kenyan countryside.





We have developed a routine, and are becoming….seasoned….a bit; we are understanding the rhythms of the camp – especially guest schedules which dictate what work we can accomplish (how noisy and messy can we be?), when the guys working on the bridge come and go, the daily temperature and weather (when it rains it becomes cold and soggy; otherwise, by our early afternoon rest, it is so hot that we are searching for the refreshing coolness between and underneath the pillows). We are even aware of the wildlife patterns we see daily and hear nightly. There are lions and hyenas calling, elephants foraging just outside the tent, wildebeest and zebras grazing on the horizon, and the nocturnal and elusive genet cat that has appeared on our deck several times.






So…..seven weeks ago, we arrived, met our new friends Ben and Holly (They are British/Kenyan late thirties camp managers who have many pre-Mara-Plains-Camp stories to tell about Iraq, Syria, South Sudan, Somalia and growing up in Kenya; they use words like “reckon” and “rubbish”).


After a tour of the camp, we started assessing the situation. The bridge spans 30 meters and is 600 mm wide; it was designed by a young American, son-of-African-missionaries Bobby Reese (we would come to call on Bobby for boots-on-the-ground-in Nairobi support, topping up our M-PESA account, bridge clarification and advice, along with some “engineering humor and banter”). Our work, here, has been to demolish the existing bridge (condemned due to damage caused by flash flooding and resulting river debris that tore the sagging Indiana Jones type bridge out of its usability), and then facilitate the build and assembly of the new Harmon Parker/Matthew Bowser/Bobby Reese/Chris Leibfried Tent 4 Bridge. The rest of the team are three skilled Bridging the Gap guys – Francis, Gordon, and Geoffrey – and 6 local workers – all hard working and agreeable guys (they all have taught me many Kiswahili words – numbers, animals, and bridge words like, well “daraja” or “bridge”; they laugh good-heartedly when I try to pronounce and use the words).


There is a sequence to building a bridge; Chris, as the coordinator, insists on precise and quality work (he is never far from his tape measure or Bobby’s bridge drawings Read more…

Peace Bridge to a Better World

It is dark in the tent and I hear the zipper opening as Chris gets out to face the day before sunrise. I burrow into my sleeping bag on the comfortable mattress for a little more sleep. Eventually I hear the sound of flip flopping through the morning dew: “good morning Harmon!”. The roosters are cock-a-doodle-dooing, the crickets sing loudly then suddenly stop, there is a bird that sounds exactly like a baby crying, the air is damp and fragrant. Chris delivers my coffee. It is time to start the day at the Peace Bridge site on the Nzoia River in the northern Rift Valley of Kenya. We have arrived here after a short plane flight from Nairobi and a tortuous drive along roads that only a high clearance 4 wheel drive truck could manage.




We are here because Harmon and Teri Parker have opened up their lives and their home to us. We want to help. That is what Harmon Parker does: he helps, he inspires, he gives hope. Harmon is the founder of Bridging the Gap Africa. He helps communities build foot bridges. He is a genuine mix of serious and silly,  patience and exasperation,  frustration and tolerance. Harmon is full of intelligence, love, humor, whole-heartedness; he is humble. He barks out orders in one moment and in the next is laughing and teasing (he is a total Hootterite!).IMG_5211

There are three criteria that must be met for Harmon and BtGA to consider a bridge from the many requests: it must improve and facilitate the education, health care, and commerce situations of the joining communities.

At first sight, the river looks beautiful – meandering and placid, but one day, I watch as a teenager jumps in to cross –  he is swept swiftly down the river as he swims to the other side much farther downstream from where he started. The current is strong, even in low season.




The Peace Bridge is a 45 meter (147 ft.) suspension bridge (designed by Matthew Bowser and team; Matthew is a Canadian professional bridge engineer with the MMM Group) over a dangerous river where many have died trying to cross. It’s a complicated structure that has taken much time and cooperation among communities, engineers, carpenters, welders, laborers, masons, cooks, social workers, volunteers. They work through hot sun and torrential rain. They brainstorm, calculate, and the workers, at Harmon’s playful command must show “asses and elbows” – he does not accept anything substandard. Harmon surrounds himself with quality people. Sylvester is the jovial and capable foreman; he gets the job done and has so many stories to go along with his linguistic skills – he is Harmon’s very likeable right hand man. He is also known as Baba King Solomon – father of his son King Solomon.





Francis is an extremely skilled carpenter – he builds forms for the concrete, a ladder to go in and out of the pit for the footings, saw horses, and all of the wooden structures for the camp including the newly renovated outhouse with a real toilet dubbed “Beth’s Bush Bathroom” (I am thankful because even though to “flush”, we pour river water down the hole – there is a real porcelain toilet positioned for privacy and with a view of some beautiful gold flowers ).




Amos and Eric run their asses off for whatever needs to be done.



Old Sila the Prophet (who gratefully accepted the melted sneakers Chris bequeaths to him) with massively strong hands- does any hard labor asked of him without a blink of an eye.


Nasambu is the camp cook. She organizes the meals, cleans clothes, washes the dishes. She is in her young twenties and is studying to be a teacher, She takes us to her modest home one afternoon and we meet her family and neighbors. Luckily for Nasambu, she has moxie, as Harmon puts it, so she fits right in.



The rest of the crew work hard and watch us wazungu to see what we are made of. They pour cement, hoist the towers, dig and fill holes, and generally provide the necessary muscle. They watch me as a local decides to bathe in the river – Harmon points out the full black moon in my direction as I stand in the shade of the sugar cane (I try to act disinterested….). They huddle together in the shelter from the driving rain with a shivering Chris who toughs  out the storm with them after the cement pour.  They seem to be proud to be a part of the bridge.





Since I am not an engineer, and although I can calculate angles and do some math, my main interest is in the locals of this third world country. Most homes in these villages have no electricity or running water and are basically groupings of mud huts covered in cow dung. The smokey kitchen has a stone fire pit with a shelf above it for one pot (that is the extent of the appliances). There are grazing goats and pecking roosters, hens and chickens coming into the open doorways. The “business district” is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. We are truly off the beaten path.






There are small (often barefoot) children who, independent of any adult supervision, come to stare at me, the mzungu – the white person with blonde hair. Often the sight of me makes the babies cry.







There is a young boy – maybe 8 – who one day helps me fill my bucket up with water from the river. His name is Manu – he does’t speak English. I know only a few Swahili words. He comes by the campsite every afternoon and looks over. I shout out to him: “Manu! Jambo!” – I walk over to him and he smiles. He seems interested in what is happening. His “toy” is an old tire that he wheels through the field beside our tents with a bent sugar cane stick.



I interact with as many people as I can – I offer my hand and receive a handshake – sometimes the respectful handshake where they put their left hand on their forearm near their elbow, or the more complicated handshake where we snap our thumbs together at the end. The locals are poor; they are proud and happy to have a bridge. They welcome me “karibu sana!”  to their village and country. They smile their incredibly white smiles. Women walk by with various things (from small luggage, to a sack of potatoes, to containers of water) balanced on top of their heads. We pass by a school where the young students gather at the windows to wave and shout “JAMBO!!” to us







Almost everyone I meet at the bridge site tells me how appreciative they are to have us there helping them with this bridge. I tell them I will pass their message along to the people responsible for their bridge and that I am honored to be there in their village. Suddenly, the dirt under my fingernails, the damp sleeping quarters, the pedicure gone to shit, the ants we shoo away from the table seem insignificant. We are here in Kenya with and because of Harmon Parker, the founder of Bridging the Gap Africa, helping our brothers and sisters.






Building bridges to a better world! Sawa Sawa!


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